Wow, Nemesis Games was way better than the previous volume of the Expanse series. I enjoyed it tremendously. As a change of pace, we follow four people on their separate ways (although their stories are connected, of course), and learn more about each of them. Where at first this seems to be a calmer book to allow for more characterisation, things take off towards the middle of the book, and then they just don't stop accelerating. I'm really looking forward to how both the world and the main cast will continue after this.
There was nothing about The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin that I didn't like. It's a bit short, maybe, but we have two more volumes to balance that.
The Broken Earth is stunning scifi/fantasy. It contains a world with a huge (and very relevant) history. It has intricate and important environmental mechanics. It has different cultures, and those have different ticks and traditions grown from aforementioned history and environments. And these are the things that are the backdrop the reader is expected to pick up.
It's the backdrop to detailed, flawed, real characters. People who live in a hard world and make do in very different ways. And the author didn't take the easy way out, there are no "Not a Mary Sue But You Have To Love Me" people in there, either. The flaws of the main cast are sometimes grating, but always understandable.
And the writing is plain good, too – both the style and the pacing and the changes of both between narrative strands are truly well-done. Sometimes it allows the reader to be half a step ahead of the narrative, but only just, and never for long.
So, yes, this is a brilliant book, you should read it, and I can't wait to read the other two volumes. And in addition for all the things I've recounted here, be prepared to wonderful, not over-the-top, authentic queer characters. I don't think I've ever seen this level of thoughtful, practical, low-key inclusion of queerness in a book of anything approaching this quality.
With The Skull Throne, the Demon Cycle is back where I love it: Character development including plenty of queer relationships (explicit working polyamory among them), people with relationship troubles, stubborn politicians, clever politicians, and the previously known and loved characters smack in the middle of it. The action is mostly split between two groups, with one dominating the first half and the other the second, which didn't always feel smooth – but both action and character development is well-rounded, and the established world building is expanded where necessary. Definitely a step up from the previous two books! I'm very much looking forward to the next book in the series.
I think The Iron Council was weaker than The Scar (which is the previous volume in the Bas-Lag/New Crobuzon trilogy), but I enjoyed it nearly as much, because I'm a sucker for revolutions. Also, it's noticeable just how skilled China Miéville is at talking about cities – each of the stories in the series describes at least one fundamentally foreign, weird city with a mix of cultures and races among the inhabitants, and thanks to the sublte worldbuilding and depth, I feel invested and interested in every one of them.
I'm now done with the trilogy, and I'm very happy I read it. I'll explore other works by China Miéville next!
Patternmaster was very enjoyable, and presented great characters (ever Octavia Butler's strength). There was decent worldbuilding, and I'd love to learn more about this world that is a distant decendant of ours – but sadly, the book ends way too early, at a point where I felt there hadn't been all that much plot yet.
While I liked Greg Egan's other novels, Diaspora didn't grip me at all and was very hard to get through. The fact that it revolves around an advanced species that can change itself to any degree it wants to made it hard to feel sypathy with any of the characters. The beginning was really strong, describing how their civilizations and personalities are formed. But after that, to my feeling the book consisted only of excalating physicsbabble and arbitrary personality changes, and this escalation continued right upon the not quite satisfying end.
Feynman's autobiography was a bit too far on the stream-of-consciousness side for my tastes, but at least this way the reader gets a very direct feeling for what Feynman was like. Not always the best person, and with his share of faults and stupid/bad behaviour, but at the same time very engaging and open. Some parts dragged on, but most were interesting in at least some respect. An enjoyable read in the end.
It's been a long time (apart from Too Like The Lightning) that I've read a novel that felt so tailored to me like Babel-17. I mean, it's a queer polyamorous scifi novel where linguistics are key, even to winning space battles, which there are plenty of. I have no words. It's also been the first time in a while that a novel brought me to tears.
This is absolutely what scifi is supposed to be like. It's rapid, and fun, and deep, and thoughtful, and introduces alien concepts and human behaviour, and …. I can absolutely see why it won the very first Nebula Award – even though I was very surprised to hear it's as old as 1966. It doesn't feel aged at all.
The Vor Game is another Miles book in the Vorkosigan Saga, and as usual, it is a lot of fast-paced fun. I felt a bit lost over the first third or so, where it wasn't clear where the plot was going, and every time I thought I had it figured out, it switched to an entirely new track. I spent a good amount of time wondering how those threads would be tied back together, and the story did not disappoint at all. I love that while the Miles stories are mostly fun and action, all characters are consistent, and have noble and less-noble motivations, capabilities, and dreams. Not only Miles himself (who could be a Mary Sue were it not for his depression, and social issues, and missing ability to stop escalating, and … see? Good character building!), but all of his friends, comrades, subordinates, bosses, and enemies. Love the series.
I came into the first volume of Liu Cixin's Remembrance of Earth's Past with high expectations, as there was somewhat of a hype surrounding the book. It's nearly as good as (and too me, evocative of) Subjective Cosmology by Greg Egan. It's very nice physics (and physicists) scifi. The characters were irritatingly flat a lot of the time (a common hard scifi illness), and often felt over the top to me.
The beginning of the book was fairly slow, and compared to that, the ending felt sudden (not rushed, mind, only sudden), and I missed some information and worldbuilding there. (I can't be more specific without heavy spoilers, sorry.) I appreciated the somber ending (although the very final scene was a bit over the top for me).
The translation was pretty good. There remained occasional phrases that sounded weird/unidiomatic, but it happens, especially if there's so much culture to translate.
By the way, shout-out to the wonderful Mastodon reading group at #sffbookclub who read and discussed the book in August, too.
Golden Son was a worthy successor to Red Rising. It, too, had a slow start, only here te start extends to the 50% mark of the book. After that, a fairly slow and generic story picks up speed, originality, and its past characteristics. Even at its best though it still feels forced in a way that's hard to describe: As if everything happened just because the author willed it that way, and may as well have happened completely differently without breaking any internal logic. The wooden language doesn't help either. I felt there was a lot of unfulfilled potential in this book, and I'm not sure if I'm going to continue the series.
Codex Alera continues to be stunning Fantasy – I'm honestly not sure how this Jim Butcher is the same who wrote the Dresden Files. Those are good, but nowhere near Codex Alera. In the second to last volume, we see a great mix of character development, new characters, characters with legitimate but opposing views, and of course brilliant last minute tactics. All characters we care about get a fair bit of development, and since nearly all characters are very very nuanced, including the deeper introduction of non-human cultures, I'm more than willing to accept the one or two plain villains. Seeing an end-of-the-world level struggle on all sides of the three plots (Amara and Bernard, Isana with the frost people, Tavi on an entirely different continent) was a good mix, even though I felt the chapter endings/POV switches were not always executed at good points.
I'm pretty sad this series is over soon now, especially since I'm not one for re-reads (I'd love to, but in the same time I could read new books!) So I hope the last volume, First Lord's Fury, will be an appropriately awesome ending.
Dune Messiah was very much not my kind of book, and for different reasons than I disliked Dune. While my criticism regarding Good vs Evil characters from the first volume isn't relevant to the second one, Frank Herbert's narration style of showing the thoughts of just about everybody felt like a giant "tell, don't show". I felt like the story just crawled along. Everything was overthought and overexplained, none of the characters were likeable in any way, and very little actually happened. I felt that the large time gap ("I don't want to be the messiah and cause a jihad" - 12 years later, guess what) took also part in my disbelief at the fact that there was nothing an emperor could do to at least mitigate the issues he suffered from. Ehh, I probably won't go on with the series.
Excellent scifi. Cibola Burn is the fourth part of The Expanse, and the series just keeps on giving. Every book is exactly the kind of scifi I want to read – difficult situations, new worlds, people who are consistent and neither good nor evil (except for Naomi, of course), but just live their lives. Cibola Burn felt very much like I'd fear the exploration of thousands of suddenly appearing new worlds would go. I think if you think too hard about the technology level displayed in the series, some missing (AI, among other things) tech doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I'm willing to forgive this for the vast, technologically and psycologically sound universe.
Inversions by Iain Banks is a non-Culture Culture novel – unexpected and refreshing. The story is told in Banks' usual masterful style, and all of pacing, characters, depth, and content are without significant annoyances. I think this is as much Fantasy as Banks will ever get, and I enjoyed the never-quite-touching storylines, and the connections you really had to look out for (and that were never explicitly explained). The fact that I knew that this was a Culture novel added another fun layer, too, because I was constantly considering who was part of the Culture and what their goals were.
The story grows darker towards the end, and while Banks always writes with unprotected people and minorities in mind, I was a bit speechless at how well he first portrayed two cultures filled with class entitlement and elitism, and then contrasted them with torture and a horrifyingly vivid recollection of rape, involving a discussion about the responsibility and reactions of men as a whole. Wow.
The Dailight War by Peter Brett (third volume of his Demon Cycle) was really good fantasy – and yet disappointing. The start of the series seems to have raised a bar the other books can't quite meet. While my criticism of the second volume (too little character development) is met and answered beautifully on all counts, the story drags along a lot. While showing known scenes from a second viewpoint was cute in the second volume, it grew tedious here, and I felt that the pacing between story development and flashbacks was uneven. There was a lot I liked – we get to delve deeper into Krasian culture, for instance (which, to me, is still the most tiresome part of that worldbuilding). But all things considered, not that much happens when measured by the first volume, even if the book fares pretty well compared to regular fantasy novels.
I liked Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – even though the ending in itself felt predictable, it was very clear that the journey to that ending was the core of the book. It's not an easy question: How much does intelligence determine who we are, and what would happen if our intelligence were to rapidly in- or decrease? While I liked the concept of the book, I can't say that I enjoyed it though … it felt too stressfull with a hint of the kafkaesque for that.
The Scar is the second volume of Chine Miéville's Bas-Lag series, and it's as impressive as the first one. Only very loosely connected, we now explore the wider Bas-Lag world instead of New Crobuzon. Again, China Miéville excells with implicit worldbuilding, forcing the reader to think along and ahead (though there's less culture shock included than in Perdido Street Station).
I enjoyed that I was most of the time not cheering for the protagonist and her view of the world, and did not like her particularly, without hating her either. All characters were very morally ambiguous, nearly none just likeable. Same for the story – there was never a clear-cut villain, or a predictable course (for example: not all of the likeable characters got simply killed off). As I spend most of my reviews arguing for exactly this – morally ambiguous characters, implicit and clever worldbuilding, no Good v Evil – I was very pleased with this book. At no time it felt like something groundbreaking, but it definitely is a very good book, and I'm looking forward to the final work in the trilogy.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik was a perfect fantasy story/fairytale. It's got all the right parts (dark magic, regular magic, unimpressed heroine, ambivalent wizard, etc), but isn't terribly predictable, and forms real characters instead of shadows of well-known archetypes. By following the easy-to-like first-person narrator Agnieszka, and seeing her relate to the Dragon, her best friend Kasia, and all the others, painted a vivid and realistic picture of the world. We even get a surprising amount of moral ambivalence, considering the genre. A very good book. I may start to read Naomi Novik's fantasy series if Uprooted is any indicator for that series' quality.
Distress is another really enjoyable book by Greg Egan, part of his very loosely connected Subjective Cosmology trilogy. It's less "weird" than the other two parts, and might make a better starting point for interested readers. We accompany our protagonist, a scientific journalist, to a phyics conference on an anarchist island – less happens than in th other books, but that just finally leaves room for better characters and characterisations. The whole book, especially its increasingly twisty story arch, is very recommendable scifi.